Time to Scream again

By Richard Roeper on January 14, 2022

As evidenced by such recent films as Halloween Kills and Ghostbusters: Afterlife and The Matrix Resurrections, it can be a tricky thing to stage a reunion of beloved characters from a franchise that debuted long ago, so we hoped for the best but feared for mediocrity when it was announced the first Scream film in a decade would feature the return of the original Ghostface Busters: Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox's Gale Weathers and David Arquette's Dwight "Dewey" Riley.

Would they be awkwardly shoehorned into a next-generation story, a la Ghostbusters: Afterlife? Would they be front and center in a new tale that undercut the impact of the original films, as was the case with The Matrix Resurrections?

Good news: Pitfalls avoided. Thanks to the razor-sharp screenplay by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick and the stylish and Wes Craven-influenced direction by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and the ease with which Campbell, Cox and Arquette return to their roles, the new Scream stabs and jabs at our memories of the original and creates some bloody fresh twists of its own. The franchise springs back to life - and death - by bringing back Sidney, Gale and Dewey in a clever and organic way, while also introducing some terrific new characters and always, always keeping us in the loop with a bounty of funny and knowing references to the Scream movies - not to mention the Stab movies-within-the-movies that were based on the "real" events from the Scream movies. (You remember Stab, right? With Tori Spelling as Sidney, Jennifer Jolie as Gale, David Schwimmer as Dewey, Luke Wilson as Billy Loomis and Heather Graham as Casey Becker?)

As if there could possibly be another option, our story opens in classic, time-honored Scream fashion, with Jenna Ortega's high schooler Tara Carpenter answering the phone (good thing her family has a landline!) while simultaneously texting with her best friend, Amber (Mikey Madison). The mechanized voice on the other end of line sounds exactly like the voice of the notorious Ghostface killer (and subsequent copycats), and Tara goes from slightly irritated to deeply annoyed to absolutely terrified, because that's how it always goes. Like Drew Barrymore's Casey back in 1996, it appears as if Tara isn't going to make it to the opening titles - but Tara's a fighter and she winds up in the hospital, clinging to life. And away we go ...

We meet a new generation of teenagers living in the outwardly charming but deeply haunted town of Woodsboro, California. In addition to Tara and her overly protective BFF Amber, there's good girl Liv McKenzie (Sonia Ammar); nice guy Wes Hicks (Dylan Minnette), whose mother is Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton), a returnee from Scream 4; and the twins, Chad Meeks-Martin (Mason Gooding), an amiable jock who is Liv's boyfriend, and Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who is obsessed with the Stab movies, explains to everyone they're all basically IN a Stab movie, and delivers a brilliant monologue dissecting the differences between sequels and reboots and "requels."

Melissa Barrera (The Heights) plays Tara's older sister, Sam, who left town under mysterious circumstances and is estranged from Tara, but now returns with her boyfriend, Richie Kirsch (Jack Quaid). As the body count piles up and we learn about various characters' connections to the past, Arquette's Dewey, Cox's Gale and Campbell's Sidney find themselves once again in Woodsboro and once again in danger.

We know not everyone in a Scream movie is going to make it out alive. We know we're eventually going to learn the identity of the killer - but only after at least a half-dozen suspects have been identified. We know Sidney and Gale and Dewey deserve some peace and quiet all these years later - but just when they're out, Ghostface pulls them back in. It's a genuine kick to see Campbell, Cox and Arquette return to the franchise, and the young generation of actors now fleeing from Ghostface (or maybe one of them IS Ghostface!) all turn in splendid, funny, smart performances. This is the best Scream since the first Scream.


Three and a half stars

Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references